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Rational whales

By on April 12, 2014

Posted by Deputy Editor Zoya Street

Earlier this week, reported on a study done at Ubisoft into the behaviour of their whales.

I think that the results won’t surprise anyone who has a good relationship with their highest-spending customers. Every time I speak to someone in that position, it sounds like they see their ‘whales’ as simply hobbyists. The Ubisoft researchers seem to have found the same thing. Their players are thinking about their long-term performance in the game, not just satisfying a short-term itch.

“One thing that came across was this concept of ‘whales’ was really framing how developers and our marketing folks were thinking about what drives high-value spenders. [The assumption was] it’s impulsive, more irrational, kind of hedonistic behavior,” Yee said. “What we found was almost the exact opposite. Instead of being impulsive, they were long-term thinkers, cool-headed, methodical, and they really supported the game.”

It turns out the heavy spenders weren’t spending money on impulse purchases. They valued long-term learning and mastery of the game, so they focused their purchases on new gear and items to help them master different aspects of gameplay, try new tactics, or unlock new classes to become proficient at. As for how developers could turn that knowledge into concrete changes to make in a game, Ducheneaut said they could start by giving rational customers the basics they need to make rational decisions with their money.

“If you want to make an informed purchase decision, you have to be able to compare items in the store very easily and understand what it’s going to bring you in terms of added gameplay value,” Ducheneaut said. “So you see how you could reframe the design of your shop such that those things are easier to do for those people.”

You can read the full article over at The lesson for developers is clear: merchandise your IAPs ethically, so that smart, sensible people can plan their spending.

About Zoya Street

I’m responsible for all written content on the site. As a freelance journalist and historian, I write widely on how game design and development have changed in the past, how they will change in the future, and how that relates to society and culture as a whole. I’m working on a crowdfunded book about the Dreamcast, in which I treat three of the game-worlds it hosted as historical places. I also write at and The Borderhouse.